Netflix has made itself into a fixture in the entertainment business. But according to one Wall Street firm, it’s booming growth days may be over.
William Power and Steven Beckert at Baird downgraded Netflix from Buy to Neutral in a note Monday, saying that the companies subscribers may have plateaued.
“In our Q4 U.S. survey, 46% of respondents stated that they were Netflix streaming subscribers vs. 47% in Q3 and 35% a year ago,” wrote Power and Beckert. “This appears to point to more flattish Q4 2015 U.S. subscriber progress, and, if accurate, potentially raises some questions around the U.S. subscriber growth trajectory.”
Shares are down 4.5% since Thursday’s close.
The large growth of the company, however, has been mostly priced in according to Power and Beckert. Additionally, they identified 4 major risks for the company that warrant the downgrade.
- International execution: “The international markets have lower broadband penetration rates, lower credit usage, and lower TV [average revenue per users], all of which could hamper Netflix’s growth in those markets.”
- Potential for higher churn as price increases rolled through: “Netflix now boasts 40.3 million paid US subscribers, vs. industry bellwether HBO at roughly 41 million. Given the relatively lower monthly price point, we suspect it can out-grow HBO, though the ceiling could be lower than expected.”
- Increased competition: “Netflix faces a wide range of competition, including direct competitors like Amazon and Hulu, traditional cable and satellite video providers, and emerging initiatives like TV Everywhere and Aereo.”
- Rising content costs: “The push towards increased original programming and content costs generally could pressure profitability and cash flow more than expected. Original programming cash costs are front-end loaded.”
Given these challenges and Netflix’s previous booming growth, the analysts don’t see much more room to run.
“We remain positive on Netflix’s longer-term positioning, but given strong recent performance, and equally high sentiment and expectations, we view the risk/reward as balanced at current levels,” concluded Power and Beckert.
In addition to the rating downgrade, they lowered their price target from $128 per share to $115.